The Protector

cast: Jackie Chan, Danny Aiello, Bill Wallace, Moon Lee, Saun Ellis, and Richard Clarke

director: James Glickenhaus

90 minutes (15) 1985
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail
[released 12 March]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary

For all its faults as serious drama and convincing detective thriller, The Protector is classic exploitation cinema from the maker of The Exterminator (1980), and Blue Jean Cop (aka: Shakedown, 1988). This DVD offers the original Warner studio cut, not the version that Jackie Chan re-edited to emphasise his trademark knockabout comedy for the Hong Kong market. Viewed today, it remains an effective showcase for Chan as hardboiled action star – and, apart from Robert Clouse’s Battle Creek Brawl (aka: The Big Brawl, 1980); it was his first leading role in a US production.

Wong (Jackie Chan) and Garoni (Danny Aiello), a couple of New York’s finest with a habit of getting into trouble with gangs of heavily armed crooks and then blowing things up (like boats, helicopters, etc) witness the kidnapping of glamorous heiress Laura (Saun Ellis) and, this being a movie of chases that go places, our cool heroes manage to convince their dept superiors to send them on a mission to Hong Kong, apparently on the trail of said kidnappers. Following the strict rules of downmarket US indie actioners set in southeast Asia, our macho heroes get attacked by the girls (naked, homicidal, too!) in a massage parlour, a sequence clearly designed to incur the disappointment of a top mobster and the wrath of the local police chief. Finding an attaché case full of bribery, and forewarned of betrayal by a fortune-teller, Wong and Garoni return the cash to its Machiavellian owner, and earnestly prepare for a climactic assault on the gangster’s drugs’ lab and secret hideout at the docks.

Not unlike Chan’s later serious-minded ‘tough-cop’ characterisation in Kirk Wong’s intense drama Crime Story (Zhong an zu, 1993), this seminal film boasts a change of pace for the Asian superstar that we all know and love. Although the martial arts action features plenty of Chan’s unique brand of hyper kinetic stunt work, turning a variety of props into makeshift weapons, and taking full advantage of every item of on-set décor to enhance acrobatics, there’s a clearly identifiable hard-edged tone for most of the fighting scenes, here, that is occasionally electrifying instead of merely amusing. Chan is seen using handguns, almost as often as his fists, against various opponents. For any movie fans only familiar with Chan’s somewhat camp tumbling routines, The Protector is a real eye-opener.

The narrative structure is perfunctory at best, and the unsettlingly variable visual style (the opening sequence’s truck robbery by a gang of urban punks resembles, not a cop thriller, but footage borrowed from a cheesy sci-fi dystopian flick made in the wake of John Carpenter’s influential Escape From New York, 1979), does leave much to be desired, but the breathtaking unpredictability of Chan’s numerous foot chases (one lengthy trek across close-moored vessels and platforms in Hong Kong harbour is staged with admirable panache) makes a welcome contrast to the easily anticipated outcomes of his unarmed combat duels.

This is ‘ultra-bit’ edition DVD has excellent picture and sound quality, but the disc extras are limited to an interestingly opinionated commentary from the bloke-ish Andrew Staton.